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Court ruling mixed blessing for polyamorists

Polygamy separate from non-monogamous polyamory

Some Vancouverites in "polyamorous" relationships are feeling a mixed sense of relief after a court decision upheld Canada's law regarding multiple marriages. Released Wednesday, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bauman's 335-page decision says the Criminal Code section that prohibits polygamy does not cover the various forms of consensual, non-monogamous relationships known as polyamory.

"My personal relationship is not illegal according to the definitions of this decision," said Zoe Duff, one of the directors of the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association who is in a polyamorous arrangement with two men. "That's a relief."

However, Bauman's decision also says formal marriages, legally recognized or not, with more than two people are against the law. This includes both Mormon fundamentalists with multiple wives in the Interior town of Bountiful and polyamorists who have formalized their relationships with ceremonies.

John, who asked that his real name not be given, shares an East Side house with a woman, another man and a child in what they call a triad relationship. "In our situation, we are one of those groups of polyamorists that [the decision] is not a victory for," John said. "We did participate in a ceremony. While it wasn't legal or religious, we had a full ceremony, we had rings, we had cake, we had guests, we had a ceremony."

His partner, who asked her name not be published and who is legally married to John, said she feels sad for her family. "In a situation that was based on deep love and caring, I have been now defined as something that Canada sees as criminal."

Justice Bauman's decision comes from a request from the B.C. Attorney General to the Supreme Court about whether section 293 of the Criminal Code is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The section is an old, rarely used law that makes practising polygamy, or even attending the ceremony of a polygamous marriage, an offence punishable by up to five years imprisonment. The attorney general hoped to use the law against the Mormon fundamentalist splinter group of Bountiful, a small community in south-east B.C. that practises polygyny: men having multiple wives.

The custom drives the age of first marriage and first childbirth for women of Bountiful into their teens, as well as leaving no women for younger men to marry. Bauman's decision said the law was consistent with the Charter, though he said that children who married into polygamy should not be included, and that harm or exploitation was not necessary to be charged under the law.